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Communications of the ACM

From the editor's desk

A Time to Retrospect and Prospect

Calvin C. Gotlieb
EIC Years August 1962–December 1965

I accepted an invitation to become the EIC of CACM, starting with the August 1962 issue (Vol. 5, Issue 8), and continued in that position until the December 1965 issue (Vol. 8, Issue 12), at which time I assumed the editorship of Journal of the ACM (JACM). I was succeeded at CACM by Gerry Salton.

My contribution to the 50th anniversary issue of JACM was entitled "A Golden Time for JACM" where I noted that numerous authors who were already famous for their work with computers, or destined to become so, authored papers in JACM during my editorship. The same can certainly be said for CACM.

In the 41 issues during my CACM tenure, there were no fewer than 10 individuals who would later win ACM's A.M. Turing Award, five who would become ACM Presidents (see the sidebar on page 40), and numerous European contributors who were the principal researchers on computers and applications in their own countries (among these latter were Henri Rutishauer, Peter Henrici, Niklaus Wirth, Fritz Bauer, A. Winjgaarden, and Edgsar Dijkstra). In many cases there were multiple contributions from those mentioned, and a full list of CACM authors in this brief period is a good beginning to a list of computing pioneers worldwide.

The period was one in which there was tremendous activity around computers on many fronts. Saul Gorn noted that ACM membership had reached 13,000 and gave reasons why he was convinced that computer science was certain to assume major importance. An ACM committee consisting of Sam Conte, John Hamblin, David Young, Werner Rheinbolt, and others produced preliminary recommendations for an undergraduate program in computer science. Joint Computer Conferences, co-sponsored with the IEEE-Computer Society, were held semi-annually, but questions had already surfaced regarding the appropriateness of ACM getting actively involved in hardware exhibitions. Under the leadership of Isaac Auerbach, the International Federation of Information Processing Societies (IFIP) was gaining worldwide recognition.

"In the 41 issues during my CACM tenure, there were no fewer than 10 individuals who would later win ACM's A.M. Turing Award, five who would become ACM Presidents.

In 1960 Algol 60 had appeared as the result of an international collaboration, and with its many elegant features, including a highly structured format, and recursive subroutines, proved that a programming language designed by a committee did not have to be bureaucratic or convoluted.

A revised version of the Algol 60 Report was published in the January 1963 issue of CACM, and in the various issues of that period, there were many so-called "Certifications" of Algol algorithms that were a consequence of the universal interest in the language.

From time to time throughout my CACM editorship and afterward I contributed my own work and opinions. In the April 1969 issue, (when Stuart Lynn was EIC), in a piece entitled "On the ACM Publications," I reported on the conclusions of an ad hoc committee of the Editorial Board established to respond to a request for the ACM President to formulate a five-year policy for Council consideration. On rereading that report I am struck by the extent to which issues discussed there continue to demand attention to this very day when the shape of CACM is being recast.

One question, which certainly survives, was how to make better use of technology in ACM's publications. In those days technology was directed to automatic indexing and abstraction, selective dissemination of information, and to the publishing process itself. There was a strong feeling that ACM was not taking sufficient advantage of the expertise of its membership. Gerry Salton, in "Towards a Publication Policy for ACM," (CACM, Jan. 1966, p. 2), presented a strong case for making it possible to submit papers in machine-readable form. Today it is a matter of coming to terms with the Internet, blogs, and other online dissemination of facts and opinions.

One question that was debated, but for which there is now a different answer than originally given, was the necessity for articles to be robustly refereed. CACM's Editorial Board took the position (which I supported) that it was important to continue placing major emphasis on refereeing. The reason given was that many universities were still in the process of establishing formal computer science programs and the presence of a highly respected literature, particularly in JACM and CACM, was an important factor in having these programs accepted. Indeed, three of the courses noted in the 1968 report by ACM's Curriculum Committee on Computer Science, listed JACM or CACM in 38 of 78 references (49%).

Today, with a majority of the membership coming from practitioners rather than academics, this argument no longer holds the same force.

This anniversary issue offers a time for retrospect and a time for prospect. Retrospect means remembering all the colleagues, friends, and excitement of those heady days. As for prospects, anyone who reads Moshe Vardi's account of the comprehensive research and imaginative thought that has driven the deliberations about the future course for CACM (see p. 44), will know the publication is in very good hands indeed.

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Calvin C. (Kelly) Gotlieb ( is currently Professor Emeritus in Computer Science at the University of Toronto.

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UF1Figure. The cover story in the August 1963 issue presented a computer program designed to edit news stories in a newspaper style.

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UF1-2Figure. The six-person editorial team for the first edition were employed at burroughs corp., ramo-wooldridge Corp., IBM, Sperry Rand COrp., Sylvania Electric, and Carnegie Institute of Technology (Perlis)

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